How to Implement a Healthy Bedtime Routine
Last week I talked about why my family implements a bedtime. There are a lot of people who think that bedtimes go against the peaceful parenting rules but I disagree. Obviously, there are some methods of enforcing the bedtime that break those rules and that is why I thought we should discuss how to implement a healthy bedtime routine. No force involved.
My husband and I started implementing our son’s bedtime when he was a month old. Wait…what? Yes, you read that right. We noticed that our son was kind of developing his own little schedule and we just flowed with it. He was falling asleep around 7:30 pm and sleeping until about midnight. So my husband and I would lay him down in his bassinet. We would take turns getting in the shower and doing some things that we needed to get done around the house, laundry, dishes, etc. Of course, he didn’t stay in bed all night but that’s not the point. The point was he laid down at the same time every night. He was sleeping through the night by the time he was 6 weeks old. Personally I think that you should start your child’s bedtime routine when they are infants.
I get it, he was an angel baby and not all babies are like that. My daughter, while always perfect in my eyes, did not develop the same angelic sleep patterns that my son did. Nevertheless we started a bedtime routine for our little girl the same way. We bathed her, fed her, and rocked her to sleep around 7:30 pm. She was usually up after my workout at 9:30 pm. Sometimes sooner, of course, and then she was up again at midnight…and 3 am…and 6 am. And she pretty much woke up at least once throughout the night until she was about 10 months old. Probably more to do with being close to mommy than getting a drink of milk because by that age she would usually latch, suckle about five times, and fall back into a deep sleep. Again the point was she was laid down at the same time every night.
Just to be clear, when I laid my children down for their “bedtime” as infants they were already sleeping.
So what happens if you already didn’t implement a bedtime routine and your child is no longer an infant? You can still do it only it will be a little more challenging. It’s like peaceful parenting when you haven’t always been a peaceful parent. It can still be done but you have to be a bit more creative.
Here are the steps I would take to implement a healthy bedtime routine:
Talk to your child.
Most of what I am going to suggest is what I did with my children while they were infants. I think all of the steps have grown as my children have grown. This step is obviously for those who have children struggling to accept a bedtime or parents trying to implement one.
If your child already has a bedtime but doesn’t follow that bedtime, it might be time to adjust the bedtime. Think about what your body does when you try to go to bed too early. If I lay down at 8 pm I become restless and I am unable to fall asleep. Or maybe your routine leading up to bedtime is too hectic. Examine the situation and ask your child to do the same. Then discuss what ideas you both came up with.
If you have never had a bedtime and you need to implement one, you need to discuss this with your child. It’s like adding a house rule to the list; you can’t just add one without any discussion. You have to make your case for it and hear the thoughts of your family. If no one has any reasonable objections, then you kind of win by default.
Taking the time to speak with your child about a change in their sleep patterns tells them that you genuinely care about their development and their comfort. They will likely respond to your concern with deep appreciation.
After dinner, my kids clean their room and take their showers, while my husband and I take care of the kitchen. I understand that some people like to take their showers in the morning but here’s my problem with that, that means you go to bed dirty. You sleep better when you don’t smell like dirt and sweat. Laying your clean head down on a pillow that doesn’t have yesterday’s dirt on it has to make for a better night’s rest.
Smells are very important when trying to sleep. Make sure your kids enjoy the scents of their shampoo and body wash.
Have family time.
After the littles have their showers it is time for the family to hang out together. Having family time reassures your child of the stability of their environment. Having everyone in the same room conversing, negotiating, and participating in a family activity reestablishes the families strength. Doing this daily provides your child with a sense of security. I would argue that the best time to get that reassurance is right before you lay your head down to rest. Feeling safe allows for your child to rest with minimal effort.
My daughter will occasionally ask her father or I to pat her back until she falls asleep. I notice that this request is more frequent if we missed family time for whatever reason once or twice in one week. I think this is because she needs extra reassurance to feel relaxed enough to fall asleep.
Kid only play time.
I am not sure if this works when the children are smaller because my son and daughter mentioned this around age 5, but I would give it a try because it has worked beautifully. During one of our discussions my son said “After family time sis and I want time to play just the two of us”. He was making his case for why they should get to stay up a little later. So we tried it and much to my surprise it works marvelously. I’m not 100% sure why this combination works so well but my guess is that it’s because they feel security from the family time and autonomy from the individual play happening back to back.
Read them a book.
After they clean up from their kid only play time and they brush their teeth, read them a book. Read them kid books. Read them their favorite book until it hurts to even think about reading it again; and then read it one more time. Read them novels that you would enjoy. I just got finished reading the kids The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. They loved it. Next we are going to read The Little Prince. You will not always have the luxury of reading to your children, so do it often. Reading to them will be a treasure that will forever be buried in the depths of your soul.
Kiss them goodnight. Twice.
Kiss your children goodnight every night. Kiss them twice. Once before they got to sleep and once after they have already fallen asleep. There’s no science behind this but I’m pretty sure that children that get that extra kiss are happier. Again, no science and just a gut feeling.
You should have an open door policy with your children at night time. Your children should be allowed to get out of their beds and ask for another hug or to tell you they love you. I understand that there can be some fear that your child will never go to sleep, since children seem to become thirsty little philosophers at bedtime. Make sure they go to bed with a water bottle. Give them that extra hug and kiss. Your children will engage you in some of the most interesting conversations right before bed. Have those conversations. Let them capture your undivided attention.
Your child should be able to crawl into your bed for a snuggle at 2 am or for extra comfort from a bad dream at 3 am. Does this mean that they have to stay in your bed until you wake up in the morning? Of course not. I would argue that’s not very good sleep for anyone involved. But just because you aren’t going to let them sleep with you for 4 to 6 hours doesn’t mean that you can’t give them what they need and then take them back to bed. Remember that your child will not always wake you up in the middle of the night. While the idea of not being interrupted during sleep sounds heavenly to every parent on earth, I can promise you that one day you’re going to miss this.